Queens Plaza To Get New Look In Cleanup
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said a new cleanup initiative by Mayor Michael Bloomberg would help stem longstanding problems with prostitution in and around Queens Plaza. The mayor announced the plan at MetLife’s Queens Plaza headquarters on February 25 with Borough President Helen Marshall, Brown and other public officials attending, but that good news was tempered by word the mayor is planning $600 million more in cutbacks that could begin to affect city services.
Brown, speaking later that evening at the 114th Police Precinct Community Council, said his office, in cooperation with the New York Police Department, launched a highly successful operation of its own last year against prostitution in the Queens Plaza area. "I did not see one [prostitute] on the north or south side [of Queens Plaza]," Brown said after having patrolled the area the previous night.
With the city’s economic outlook continuing to look bleak, Bloomberg has asked city agencies, in a letter also dated February 25, for a new round of cuts as high as 9.5 percent that could possibly necessitate worker layoffs. City agencies must reply by March 12.
Bloomberg intends to defer costs of the cleanup in Queens Plaza by using daily work crews composed of convicted low-level offenders sentenced to community service and homeless individuals from the Salvation Army shelter on Borden Avenue to clean streets, parks, and remove graffiti within the 37 designated blocks of the Queens Plaza redevelopment zone.
The effort will be overseen by the Mayor’s Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator in cooperation with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Center for Court Innovation.
"For the past three years, things have been cleaned up a lot in Queens Plaza," said Gerald Walsh, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association. But Walsh wanted to know if the budget crisis would affect future efforts in the area.
The Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report of 589 city agencies, released on February 21, said 75 percent of city agencies were rated positively with less than 3 percent negatively impacted from $2.6 billion in budget cuts imposed last year.
"We are very much committed to maintaining (our) initiative over there [in Queens Plaza] and staying," said Brown. Pointing to the mayor’s cleanup initiative, he quoted from Borough President Marshall’s remarks that day and said, "Queens Plaza is the gateway to our borough."
When Brown began his tenure as district attorney in 1991, he recalled 361 homicides were recorded in the borough during that first year. Since then, overall crime has dropped by 75 percent with less than 100 homicides in Queens the past two years, according to Brown. But he conceded the effects of an increasingly bad budget situation.
"We’re all taking heavy hits," he said, adding that since the mayor knows the District Attorney’s budget can’t be cut without also cutting policing, cuts are made in tandem. The police department is facing an additional reduction of 1.3 percent in the latest round of budget cuts.
With an annual caseload of 60,000 arrests, Brown said, "We’re all going to have to do more with less and that’s difficult. All of us are very much involved in making sure that those days of the early 1990s don’t return."
As of February 4, 2003, 13 homicides have been recorded so far this year in Queens, more than twice the number during the same period in 2002.
Brown credited the men and women of the NYPD as deserving a large portion of credit in reducing crime because, he said, "They’re the ones out there on the street doing a great, great job." But he also credited the 300 Assistant District Attorneys in his office, saying, "Bad guys are going away and they’re going away for a long, long, time."
"It makes very little sense for the men and women of the NYPD to make arrests if I can’t prosecute their cases," said Brown. "I am proud of our relationship with NYPD."
Deputy Inspector David Barrere, commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, also praised the partnership between the D.A. and police. "There was a serious spike in property crimes when I first came to the command," he said. But with help from the D.A., Barrere said "Operation Most Wanted" was put into action, targeting recidivist burglars.
"With help from the D.A.’s office, we’re down 100 burglaries from the previous year and this year, we’re down 20 so far," reported Barrere.
On January 30, Brown announced one of the largest drug seizures ever in the borough when more than 4,600 pounds of cocaine were confiscated in Maspeth. Brown said airport crimes identity theft and economic crimes and sexual assault and abuse cases, as well as drug trafficking, were just some of the matters the D.A.’s office pursues in addition to homicides, rapes and quality of life cases.
Ann Bruno, president of the 114th Precinct Community Council, asked Brown about efforts to have graffiti offenders clean up after themselves. Brown told her one 32-year-old repeat offender had just been indicted on a felony charge "He will go to jail," Brown said.
The 32-year-old was caught together with three high school students during a joint operation conducted last year by detectives from the Queens North and the Transit Vandal Unit. Police charged the four with causing more than $30,000 in damages in an eight-month crime spree of spay painting "tags".
Police Officer Nicholas Schieda was cited as Cop of the Month by the 114th Precinct Community Council. Barrere said Schieda, during the course of his assignment to the truancy enforcement unit, received a tip about a student carrying a weapon.
A known gang member, the student had a dagger on him and was arrested. Upon questioning, information was given that closed a homicide.
See related story page 7.